The 8-Step Beginner’s Guide to Cold Immersion
Cold immersion, a many centuries old practice, has gained a lot of attention in recent years. As people begin to “biohack” and navigate evolutionary shortcuts in our physiology they no doubt will stumble onto the power of exposing our bodies to extreme cold. This interest has been perpetuated by programs like the Wif Hof Method, XPT and RUNGA, in collaboration with the testimony of wellness experts like Ben Greenfield, Dr. Jack Kruze, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, and others.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you too may be finding it hard to resist the the cold, especially when you consider the effects. According to Ben Greenfield, the benefits of cold immersion include:
Lowering body fat
Increasing hormone levels
Improving sexual performance and fertility
Lowering blood sugar
Cutting food cravings
Improving adrenal function
Fixing thyroid issues
Enhancing immune function
Improving sleep quality
Increasing pain tolerance
Epic social media photos (OK. That one was mine.)
Despite ample rewards, when it comes time to taking the plunge, folks tend to be consumed with more questions than answers. For starters:
Where, when and how do I start?
How do I quell my fears of hypothermia, frostbite and shock?
What equipment is best and how long do I need to really stay in for to get all the benefits?
Let this article be your guide.
STEP 1: YOU CAN ALWAYS MAKE IT COLDER
Wim Hof, the leading popularizer of the cold immersion trend, has made a name for himself by climbing snow-capped mountains in his underwear and performing on keynote stages fully submerged in ice. This man is a lifelong yogi who has spent decades strengthening his nervous and immune system to do what he does. Wim was not built in a day.
For most of us, the benefits of cold immersion begin at any temperature that makes us uncomfortable, and yet still empowers us to make the practice part of our regular routine. That means you also don’t want it so cold that you’ll struggle with consistency.
You can always make it colder.
STEP 2: 30 DAYS OF COLD SHOWERS
Prior to investing in cold immersion equipment or overthinking the practice, I recommend starting with 30 days of cold showers. This will help you understand the basic physiological responses you’ll experience in an ice bath and how to manage them. Based on my own anecdotal experience in coaching newbies into cold immersion, I recommend progressing through your 30 days as follows:
Phase 1 (Day 1-10): Start each day with a 1-minute cold shower. No days off.
Phase 2 (Day 11-20): Start each day with a 2.5 minute cold shower. Day 14 and 18 off.
Phase 3 (Day 21-30). Start each day with a 5-minute cold shower. Day 22 and 26 off.
STEP 3: BUYING YOUR FIRST TANK
Your first tank should be modest. You could even start with your home bathtub so long as it gets deep enough (more on this later). For most, a kiddie pool from Amazon is a great option as it’s highly affordable, multi-purpose, and can easily be stored away when you’re not using it. However, if you’re in this for the social media fanfare and you know you’re going to be using it a lot, the cattle trough is your best option.
Here are my starter recommendations:
There are other options such as buying a large freezer like this one, setting it at 38 degrees and climbing in and out of it each morning. I’ve simply opted not to give much consideration to the whole “jumping-in-and-out of -an-electric-freezer-soaking-wet-every-morning” thing.
STEP 4: USING CLEAN WATER
When I began filtering my hose water, my tank water started lasting longer. I then found it lasted even longer when I added ¼ cup of 35% food-grade hydrogen peroxide to the water. Covering the tub at night is another must to ensure you aren’t needing to refill more often than you need to.
Here are the exact products I use at home:
Food-Grade Hydrogen Peroxide (Amazon does not currently allow the same of 35% solution)
STEP 5: FILLING THE TUB
I recommend filling your tank such that you can have your entire body submerged to your ears. Many have the inclination to just expose the lower body, or they don’t get in enough for the neck to be fully exposed. Exposing your neck and therefore your thyroid, is hugely important in order to regulate your body temperature (and will actually make it easier for you to stay in).
To get the maximum benefits, I go for the total-body dip at the very start. The total-body dip exposes the whole body, thyroid and back of the neck to the cold, which elicits a more dramatic maximal hormonal response. After the initial dip, the depth of the pool will allow you to dip your face in periodically throughout the plunge, which continues to send a dramatic message into the nervous system and will accelerate shivering.
When filling your tank and keeping in mind the above, you want to put the least amount of water possible so that the ice has less water to cool down. Be mindful of how much displacement will occur when you get in, so that you don’t lose half of your ice in that initial plunge!
For starters, I recommend placing 60lbs of ice per 70 gallons of water when using a 100 gallon tank. This should bring the temperature to about 50 degrees and allow for a tolerable yet challenging jumpstart into the realm of cold immersion.
STEP 6: HOW LONG TO STAY IN
The minimum time of a plunge, especially when considering all the effort you’ve now put in, is always 3-minutes. This is why we build to a 5-minute cold shower in the 30 days prior to investing in a tank. If you’re going to start buying $50-$100 worth of ice every week, make sure you’ve matured beyond the in-and-out in 30-seconds thing.
3-minutes holds true to any temperature above 37 degrees fahrenheit and is near the precise time most newcomers will begin to shiver in cold water. It’s also long enough to begin a cascade of the most desirable cold-immersion benefits, such as improved blood sugar regulation and fat burning. That being said, if you are at 45-50-degrees or just under (based on my 70/60 protocol), the body can withstand far longer than 3-minutes. In fact, the goal after 6 weeks would be 10+ minutes at this protocol, which should then be reduced by 2-3 minutes with every 20lbs of ice added to your constant volume of 70 gallons of water.
The general protocol targets are as follows:
60lbs of ice: 10-minutes.
80lbs of ice: 7-minutes.
100lbs of ice: 5-minutes.
120lbs of ice: 3-minutes.
STEP 7: PREPARING YOUR MIND AND BODY
Prior to getting into the ice bath, you want to calm the nervous system. Realize that much of our pain is simply a reincarnation of our held tension or fears: like our anticipation of pain at the dentist. As humans, we get into our heads about how bad something will or will not hurt, or hold tension or beliefs about ourselves which manifest and create exactly those outcomes.
Prior to cold immersion, you want to engage the parasympathetic, “rest-and-digest” branch of the nervous system using deep full breaths and prolonged exhales. Further, you always want to enter the tank on an exhale, the phase of breath that nearly defines relaxed or suspended consciousness.
Here are the breathing protocols I use:
Step 1: 2-3 minutes of alternate nostril breathing to simply reset my focus.
Step 2: Up to 5 minutes of box breathing, either lying on my back or by doing Cat-Cow.
Step 3: 3-5 more minutes of full inhales and exhales sometimes using knee-tucks to really force the full exhale.
Step 8: Entering the Cold
Always enter on an exhale and get in fast, quickly submerging your entire body, including your head. Never “dip your toes” and get in slow. Remember, the first minute is the most painful, so control your breathing and your thoughts. Nirvana is only 3-minutes away.